The Wishes of the Fish King

In May of 2016, author Doug McKelvey and illustrator Jamin Still collaborated on a Kickstarter project to fund the creation of a gorgeous new picture book. The Wishes of the Fish King is a story that Doug wrote when his first daughter was two years old. At the time, they lived in a house on a hill that was nestled in a forest. At dusk, Doug would take his daughter for a walk in the natural wonderland that surrounded their home. As he saw the world through her wonder-filled eyes, he realized that this short, precious, and sweet season of life was fleeting. The Wishes of the Fish King was his effort to capture the magic and savor this beautiful chapter in their story.


Over the next almost eighteen years, Doug had hundreds of songs recorded, wrote a collection of poetry, penned countless articles, and had a number of other books published. The Wishes of the Fish King, however, he saved. He waited. He wanted it to be “just right.” Doug was watching for an artist whose painting evoked “luminous wonder,” “magical delight,” and “ache mixed with joy.” When Doug came across Jamin Still’s Ellen and the Winter Wolves, he knew that he had found his illustrator.

In their Kickstarter video*, Jamin explains that he was particularly excited about working on Doug’s story because the illustration would reveal the magic and beauty of the natural world as seen by a two-year-old. Childish awe would transform the landscape into something sublime. As a dad of a then almost one-year-old, Jamin was struck by how his son’s vision of the world must blend reality with fantasy, and he tried to capture that in this beautiful book.


The lyrical prose of this story is elegant, easy to read, musical, and delightful. A testimony to their collaboration, the illustration pairs with the story perfectly and is enchanting. Written by a young father, illustrated almost two decades later by another young father, this book does something a little different than most other picture books do. Instead of being a story for or about children, this is a story about a father who wants to cultivate a garden of imagination in his child’s mind. It is a story that celebrates that precious parent-child relationship. That sacred duty of parents to give their kids a love of wonder. Doug and Jamin hope that readers will feel that The Wishes of the Fish King is a gift. A gift that parents share with their children who will, hopefully, share with their own children someday.

In addition to the hardbound picture book, the Kickstarter campaign successfully funded the creation of an accompanying audiobook which features an original score composed by Doug’s daughter, Ella. Both book and audiobook can be purchased at The Rabbit Room.

*The Kickstarter video is really fantastic. Check it out here.

We have also reviewed Doug’s The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog